Friday, 24 February 2012

Remembering my teacher who inspired me to become a writer-by Huang Chun-Min

Taiwanese multiple award winning writer Huang Chun-Min 黄春明

The short story was written by renowned Taiwanese literary novelist Huang Chun-Min黄春明, founder of the Huang Da Yu Children’s Drama Society.

School teachers in the 1950s lined up to take a group picture. The senior lady teacher was wearing a Cheongsam dress known as Qi Pao.
Looks like Qi Pao wearing was a fad during the early years of 1900.

I entered my early secondary school life in 1950, at Taiwan’s Lowe Dong District 罗东; I was about 12 years old then. Teacher Wang Xian Chun王贤春was the form-mistress of my class, as well as our Chinese language instructor. During those tough founding years of Taiwanese’s break away from mainland China, there were vast cultural and linguistic difference between the students who hailed from China and those who were born in Taiwan. The students from China mainland spoke and wrote better Mandarin than those local Taiwanese children.   They also out shined us in calligraphy and brush painting in arts. They were the children of the military forces personnel brought in by Chiang Kai Shek  who fled to Taiwan in 1949 with Mao Tse Dong's communist People's Liberation Army in hot pursuit.

A secondary class in progress with the teacher busy at the blackboard.

One day Teacher Wang returned us the essay composition exercise books after marking and correcting the grammatical mistakes, and after she had commented on our childish writing. As I went up to her desk when she called my name, she showed me that I got an A- for my essay writing. She also told me that if I wanted to excel in writing, it was better not to plagiarize; one must write with own self’s ingenuity and candour, be truthful and honest. In my little head, I felt angry and sad for being wrongly accused as a copy cat! I argued that I did not copy anyone’s writing. It was my own work as I toiled on it, writing it at home. Teacher Wang tried to appease me, saying that it was wonderful since I did not plagiarize, though she still showed some doubt in my words. I refused to budge, challenging the dainty teacher to offer me an essay caption and I would write on it; otherwise she would have thought that I thrived by copying others’ writing. Actually I did not mean to prove anything, nor did I want to show disdain to a new teacher. All I wanted to prove to the class that the composition “The farm House in autumn” was truly my work in essay writing. “Okay you can write any thing, any title will suit me fine. I’ll be happy to mark your essay……..”

A photographic shot of a class in progress in modern day Taiwan.

Upon my insistence she finally told me to write an essay with a title “My beloved mother”.
‘Mom was dead.’
‘Oh, how old were you when she died?’ She asked with a twitch of apology and sympathy.
‘I was 8 years old’
‘8 years old! You were pretty small then? Can you still remember anything about her? Her look……etc?’
‘Rather vaguely I remember………some blurry images…’ I stammered to answer her.
‘Okay then, you shall write about those blurry memories of your mother.’

                                                   Map of Taiwan

The next day I passed it up my composition with the title “My Mother” to Teacher Wang, and she returned to me the following day after jolting down some comments. I remembered well that day in early winter when she dismissed the class for recess, telling the classmates to go out to get some sun lights; though it was cold but not too chilly. There were only I and Teacher Wang remained in the class. As I approached her desk, I saw that she had written lines of comment on my essay writing book. I hope that she would not point a finger on me to accuse me of copying again! As she raised her head, I saw tears in her eyes. ‘You wrote very well my boy Chun Min! You essay was filled with true emotion. You clearly missed your mother.’ I remembered very vividly that I wrote that my mother passed away when I was about 8 years old. I had four other siblings, all younger than me. Soon after mother’s demise, my younger brothers and sisters kept crying, yearning for Mom, disturbing and adding pressure to my maternal grandmother who was left looking after us. To quieten us an equally distraught Grandma had no choice but told us that Mom had gone to heaven to become a goddess and we could not see her any more. As the eldest, I did not behave like my younger siblings though I was only 8 years old. But more often than not, I thought of Mom most. I would raise my head to gaze into the sky at night, and pondered how far it was true that Mom had become a goddess in the heaven. In the dark bluish sky at the evening hours, I saw myriad of stars and sometimes the moon, but never could I get a glimpse of my dear Mom. Guess she was gone forever.

The Museum of Literature of TaiNan, Southern Taiwan. This museum displays artifacts and notes, scripts, books and memoirs of famous writers of China and Taiwan. It also showcases the works of writer Huang Chun-Min.

From that day onwards, Teacher Wang paid particular attention to me in our National Language class (Mandarin Chinese). I felt a bit uncomfortable as my fellow classmates were envious of me as they too admired Teacher Wang for good guidance. She began to introduce me to a world of literature; she showed me translated literary works of some well-known Russian novelists and gave me books on  satires and dramas she owned, as well as the full works of Shen Zhon Wen 沈从文 and Ba Jin巴金  ( famous leftist writers of modern China in the early 1900s). She painstakingly asked me what I learned or gathered from the valuable books she presented me etc. With further readings of those books I received from Teacher Wang, I aspired to become a writer when I grew up.

Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek(蔣中正 or 蔣介石) )was a notorious dictator and a tyrant during his rule in Taiwan. Anybody who defied him would be deemed as a perpetrator and a communist sympathiser, and would be arrested, tortured and even killed. That was a daunting period then known as The White Terror.

One day some uniformed military personnel came to our school and took away Teacher Wang Xian Chun. She was handcuffed as she left our classroom; though she looked pale but she was defiantly strong. She did not cry as she stole a last glance at me. I dared not return her gaze; I just lowered my head at that instance. Almost immediately those books she gave to me were declared banned materials, even the secondary text book on literature “The selected Chinese Essays” was banned too. We were told that she was a spy on mission for espionage activities for communist mainland China to infiltrate into Taiwanese secondary schools. Weeks later some senior schoolmates were arranged to visit the defence ministry where they saw Teacher Wang’s lifeless body laid on an autopsy table in the military hospital. The finding of the draconian Taiwanese regime under Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek declared her to be a spy, a member of the Southern China communist youth league. She was summarily executed shortly after her arrest.

Shi Ming De was interned here in his last few years as a political prisoner. He spent 25 and a half years of his prime life in jail. The Green Island County Jail had turned into the Green Island Human Rights Memorial Park in the last decade. Shi related an incident that he refused to give up to his cellmate the bowl of noodle he was eating; as during that awful time, any meal could be the last meal. During the wee hours of that fateful night, his cellmate was taken away and shot. Shi regretted his non- sharing.
Shi Ming De led red shirt clad protesters (Few hundred thousands to 1.5 millions strong) in demonstration to demand the resignation of President Chen Sui Bian. The two used to be comrades-in-arm.
A human rights lawyer who had become the president will go down in history as a corrupted leader. Chen Sui Bian is now a jail bird like any common criminal; the sentence was harsh, it's 18 years.
Lee Teng Hui: Born January 15th 1923, was the first elected president of Taiwan. The Kuomintang Chairman ran the presidency from 1988 to 2000. Raised during the time of Japanese rule, Lee developed an affinity for anything Japan. He could speak good Japanese as he was studying in Kyoto in the 1940s and even had a Japanese name. After his tenure, he began to distance himself from KMT and instead he gave advice to KMT's rival parties. Lee Teng Hui was all out for declaring Taiwan a sovereign nation, an independent entity after he served wo terms as president. Just like Malaysia's Mahathir, Lee has been a loud mouth that embarrasses his friends and foes the like with his outrageous opinions. However one needs to respect this senior former president a bit, he earned himself a PhD in Agricultural Economics from Cornell University, USA in 1968.

I had always reminisced the good time I had with teacher Wang, those enlightening days I had spent under her tutelage. With her perpetual dressing in a Qi Pao 旗袍 (Cheongsam), hair coming down short from the fore-head, wearing a pair of copper colored, round framed spectacles, a sweet smile displayed on her pale white face, she portrayed a picture of an actress in those black and white movies. She was always wearing a pair of black canvass shoes just like my mother did. Poor Teacher Wang, she was only about 25 to 26 years old; she had vision for the merging of the two shores between Taiwan and the mainland China. She had her aspiration strong for her dream and passion as a patriot for her country. Unfortunately things did not work out her way during those tumultuous ‘White Terror白色恐怖’ years of Taiwan when political prisoners incarcerated in the jail were picked at random and shot. Teacher Wang loved her nation and her people; she was compassionate with millions of people who suffered during the Pacific War. Were we not learning all these virtues in our classrooms? Due to extremity of differing political mindset at the unfriendly shore, she had paid dearly with her life for her aspiration for a united China. Or had she been wrongfully accused?

Just like any country, Taiwanese people love their island country. Most of them refuse to accept the notion that Taiwan is a renegade province of China. After 60 over years, China's repeated calls for Taiwan to be united to motherland China have become a feeble whisper.

When I was told that I had won the 2nd Annual National Literature Foundation Award, the first image that came to my mind was Teacher Wang and followed by my mother. I told her loudly in thin air: Teacher Wang, I won the literature award! Thank you very much!

The placid serenity of the picturesque Sun-Moon Lake has lured millions of tourists to visit Taiwan year after year.

Story translated by
Alan CY Kok            

Footnote: About Shi Ming-De 施明德 Born January 15th 1941
Democracy advocate Shi Min De is well-known to have spent 25 and a half years as a political prisoner under the decronian regime of the then president Chiang Kai Shek. He began his period of incarceration at 22 year old and when released, he was already close to 50. For his cause, he was tortured and beaten mercilessly; he lost all his teeth in his 20s due to constant beating and kicking. He began his famous hunger strike to prove his innocence for a period of more than 4 years. His wife filed for divorce after he had spent 12 years in the jail.  Due to international pressure the Kuomintang 國黨 regime did not execute him even he was given a death sentence. So he was kept alive by being forced fed 3,040 times in 4 years of hunger strike. His brother Shi Ming-Cheng died due to malnutrition as a cause of staging a similar hunger strike outside the jail. Shi refused to be released after Chiang Kai Shek's death in 1987 when Chiang's son Ching Kuo lifted the martial law, on condition that he must plead guilty for his action. A defiant Shi chose to stay in the Green Island County Jail in TaiTung for another 4 years, until the demise of President Chiang Ching Kuo. Shi eventually accepted the amnesty offer by the next President, Lee Teng Hui for his unconditional release.

Shi Ming-De's name was inscribed on the wall of the Green Island Human Rights Memorial Park to mark year of his incarceration there.

On gaining his new found freedom, Shi Ming-De joined Chen Sui Bian 陳水扁 and others to form The Democratic Progressive Party 民進黨, to fight the KMT 國黨 which had ruled Taiwan since 1949. He held the post as DPP President from 1994-1996. When Chen won the presidency in 2000, he offered Shi senior govenmental posts to his choice. Shi turned down all as he deemed his goal for a democratic Taiwan had been achieved. In 2006, Shi Ming-De led groups of protestors in red shirts to demand resignation of President Chen Sui Bian 陳水扁 as Chen was discovered to be a corrupted leader. During his long years in incarceration, a diligent Shi Ming-De studied International law and linguistics, philosophy and history; he also mastered the Japanese Language. Shi had been known as Nelson Mendela of Taiwan, and was a nominee for Nobel Prize for peace in 1984. Shi told the court when he was on trial that Taiwan was already independent from China for more than 38 years (during that time) and since it was a legitimate government, there was no need to declare its independence. (China had repeatedly threatened to attack Taiwan if it announced its independence.)  Shi told the Taiwanese people, so long the large number of rockets were aiming at the island country, he would remain aloof with China and would not step foot onto the mainland.


About the writer Huang Chun-Min黄春明
Born 1935, Huang was a writer with numerous literary works, dramas, novels, and plenty of material writing for children. Some of his novels were turned into movies. Though generally low key in his exposure as a famed author of abundance, he did accept invitations to TV talk shows and media interviews. His son Huang Kuo-Suo was an equally outstanding writer like him, who had won some national awards in his twenties. Brilliant Kuo-Suo detested the educational system in Taiwan as it was very competitive, so he did not pursue higher education after his senior middle 3. However Chun-Min found his son's writing had always carried the elements of dark sorrow and harboured pessimistic content with morbid humour. His wife and him were rathered concerned but could not do much redress to advise their son for more sunny outlook in writing. It seemed that their son was always down hearted, and was discontented with the society; he was in a perpetual depression. On June 20th 2003 the family was shocked to discover their son  hanged himself at the balcony of their home. The poor young man died at age 32. Huang Chun-Min told the press that his son was not ready for the society; he was confused, had few friends, and could not adapt to environment outside the home despite he wrote so much about life.

                        Two brilliant writers of the Huang family-Father and son

Alan CY Kok

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